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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings rookie Alexander: Driven by home, waiting his turn

By Matthew Coller

Because of the upcoming bye week, most Minnesota Vikings players probably have plans to head home after their Week 5 game against the Houston Texans. Some won’t be able to go back now though as Hurricane Matthew has caused over 1 million people to lose power in Florida and along the East Coast, where a good percentage of the NFL hails from.
When Mackensie Alexander walked through the locker room on Thursday, he said he knows everyone back home is OK, but he can’t reach them now. If you believe that home is about people and not a place, then you’re not sure whether Mackensie was referring to where he grew up, which is Immokalee, Florida, or the place of his people, the place that’s in his blood.

In Haiti, Hurricane Matthew has killed more than 300 people and 200 more are missing and 60,000 have been displaced. Alexander’s parents came from Haiti to America in 1980 to escape the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished country. Their immigration from Haiti has influenced everything from the rookie cornerback’s work ethic to his attitude toward seeing limited snaps on the league’s best defense.

When Alexander’s parents arrived in Florida, the only jobs available to them were in the fields picking fruit. So picking fruit is what they did to raise their twin sons Mackensie and his brother Mackenro. They worked in blazing heat from sun up to sun down, at times for only $50 a day.

Alexander and his brother helped out in the fields on the weekends. They slept on the floor at night.

“For me, it was about doing something different than what my parents did and living in a better situation than they did and living a better lifestyle,” Alexander said. “That was one of the reasons I chose football and went hard at it stuck to it.”

Mackensie’s father Jean was a former soccer player and coach. He and Mackensie’s mother Marie weren’t thrilled with his passion for America’s game at first.

“They didn’t like it,” he said. “They looked at it as a brutal sport. Brutal for the body. After awhile they got used to it and just prayed every day that I came out healthy.

“They’re big fans now. Ever since high school they’ve come to watch me. Now they’re football fanatics. That’s all they want to watch. They might not know everything about the sport but they’ll sit down and watch it and I’m like ‘y’all don’t even know what’s going on but y’all happy.’ So it’s a funny thing for me to watch.”

They watched him go from a highly recruited high schooler to playing in the National Championship game at Clemson to becoming the second-round pick of the Vikings in 2015. They watched him sweat on the football field like they had sweated to feed their family.

Alexander doesn’t like to talk much about his work ethic, but everyone else who knows him does. His agent Trey Robinson’s voice jumps when he’s asked about his client’s sometimes-excessive work habits.

“He came down to Charlestown, South Carolina to do an autograph signing and it was about 10:30 at night and at the place he was staying the gym closed at a certain time and next thing I know he’s disappeared and all the sudden I start hearing these loud noises coming from the stairwell,” Robinson said. “I walk in there and he’s just running up and down the stairs. Then he goes out into the hallway and starts running sprints. I said, ‘it’s a little late and there’s people sleeping.’ The next night I found him out on the balcony jumping roping.”

Alexander’s decision to select Robinson as his agent says something about the player. He isn’t exactly Drew Rosenhaus. In fact, before Mackensie, most of his clients were CFL players or even one Olympian. He picked Robinson, a Clemson alum, because of a straight-forward conversation about his potential.

“I’ve never met another player like him,” Robinson said. “It’s attributable to his upbringing and the environment that he came from. He doesn’t trust a lot of people. He keeps things close to the vest. He saw his parents working every day and he saw that other kids didn’t have to do that.

“If anyone tries to get in the way of him working, he’s not going to associate with them or deal with them. He’s also a critical thinker, so getting to know him, he would call and ask me about all sorts of things and I’ve been able to earn that trust.”

Alexander has come to trust one of his Vikings teammates Emmanuel Lamur, a veteran linebacker whose parents are also from Haiti. While Alexander’s parents were in the fields, Lamur’s dad was a garbage man and his mother worked multiple jobs.

“When you see your parents struggling for you for all of your life, it does something to you,” Lamur said. “Working hard, not complaining, doing the right things, I got those tools from them because I have to be grateful. Not a lot of people have that chance to come from Haiti to the United States.”

Lamur spends a chunk of his offseason volunteering with the Mission of Grace orphanage in Haiti. He met Alexander’s parents at Mackensie’s football camp and the rookie returned the favor by going to Lamur’s event. Turns out Lamur also has a twin brother, just like Alexander.

“It’s a bond, we just became like family,” Lamur said.

At 27, the former Bengals linebacker has taken an older brother role.

“I’m teaching him the basics, of course,” Lamur said with a big smile. “Being here five years, I’ve told him to stay focused, do the best you can, stay out of trouble and always go hard.”

Staying focused is a requirement when you never know when Mike Zimmer is going to call your number.

After a terrific preseason that prompted prickly head coach Mike Zimmer to praise the team’s second-round pick, Alexander hasn’t seen as much of the field as he probably expected. But Zimmer threw him to the wolves on a drive against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. He did a solid job, then hasn’t seen much of the field since.

Zimmer is known for bringing rookies along slowly. First-round pick Laquon Treadwell has zero catches this year and 2015 top pick Trae Waynes barely played last year.

“From what I’ve seen, before he puts guys out there he wants them to be ready,” Alexander said. “It’s a game of patience, getting better every day. It’s a bit of a transition, I just have to be patient.”

That patience might be easier for a player who’s happy just to be there. But for an All-American, All-Conference cornerback who had been ranked as the fourth best prospect in the country coming out of high school, it’s a little harder.

Now is no time to complain though. The Vikings have a dominant defense – maybe the NFL’s best – and it’s led by ace cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who upped his fame profile by shutting down Odell Beckham on Monday Night Football. Across from Rhodes is veteran Terrence Newman, a favorite of Zimmer’s.

Not only is he stuck behind good talent, but there’s still room to grow. The way his cornerbacks coach at Clemson Mike Reed, a former NFL player himself, describes his former pupil gives you the idea that he will eventually be a Zimmer favorite.

“You love for your kids to challenge you as a teacher,” Reed said. “You have to come up with more ways to reinforce what you’re trying to teach. Mackensie was a guy that wanted to know, ‘OK coach, I know you’re saying this, but why are you saying it?’ That’s the kind of guy you want. You want a guy who wants to know where it can help them and where it can be their weakness.”

The Clemson position coach knows about playing for great coaches – who can also be on the hard-nosed side. He played as a defensive back under Tom Coughlin.

Reed said Alexander may need to learn to dial himself back on the amount of miles he puts on his body. He had an injury as a true freshman that was exacerbated by trying to work through it.

“When I was recruiting him, I went to see him work out and I was like, ‘dude you’ve got to chill out, you’ve got a game this week,’” Reed said. “But you always want a guy that you have to pull back, you don’t have to tell a kid ‘sick em.’”

Reed also noted that Alexander’s time on the sideline could be hugely beneficial to his long term outlook. Not only can he learn how to stop NFL receivers, but also prove himself on special teams and earn his stripes, just like he did as a top recruit at Clemson.

Even if he hasn’t made a huge impact on the Vikings’ 2016 team yet, there’s a chance he will either see the field much more next year or toward the end of this season if he continues to perform in situational duty.

And even if he doesn’t play another down, he has still made an impact on those from his home. Alexander and Adidas donated $10,000 to Boys and Girls Club in Collier County, Florida. They honored him with “Mackensie Alexander Day.”

“All the things I was doing in my life, people were paying attention but I had no idea,” he said. “I was just handling my business and people noticed. I really appreciated that.”

Alexander is one of a number of players from Haiti including Pierre Garçon and Elvis Dumervil. Lamur said they are all like a family. They all want to give back to their both their American and Haitian homes. They’ll be needed after Hurricane Matthew, just as they were when an Earthquake crushed Haiti in 2010.

And they will never forget how Haiti has shaped the NFL lives they enjoy now.

The post Vikings rookie Alexander: Driven by home, waiting his turn appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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